Disclaimer: If your company has a dedicated channel marketing department and you have successfully implemented a comprehensive online marketing strategy with your partner base, please stop reading since this will offer no value to you. However, if you are one of the 99.5% of B2B companies who work with partners, read on because this will help you boost your online marketing, help your partners and improve your competitiveness.
Difficulties Crossing the Channel Online
If you work in B2B, most likely you have (or want) a large base of partners. Whether they are resellers, distributors, integration partners, technology partners, professional services or even lead generators, they all have in common a shared future of success and incentives to help themselves and help you in the process.
However, in many cases despite having aligned goals and incentives, you’ll find collaboration to be non-existent, very limited and even counterproductive when it comes to online marketing. Most companies in these types of partner relationships understand and support partner relationships through traditional channels (trade show presence, catalogs, marketing collateral, training and annual or quarterly meetings etc…).
The landscape is littered with the following:
- Requests for links that go nowhere
- Out-of-date, incorrect or limited content on the partner site
- Partners competing directly for the branded supplier keywords in CPC
- Needlessly lackluster partner website experiences
Why is it so hard to translate that offline cooperation into online action?
Help Me Help You Help Me
I believe there are a few core reasons for this lack of partnership in online marketing:
- Most partner relationships are not handled by Marketing, but by departments that are either more sales-oriented (channel account reps), technical (IT/software tech partnerships), or professional services (integration/implementation partners). In each case, those other internal groups have different short-term priorities and incentives.
- Many partners do not have much online marketing knowledge or expertise. They are principally sales-focused, engineering or consulting-focused organizations and often do not put many dollars towards building up their own brand (or website). therefore they are less likely to invest in people with web, SEO, SEM, and social media experience.
- Many partners get their business through word of mouth. Online marketing (or even most marketing in general) is not that high of a priority for a lot of partners if the entire focus is on the personal relationships they have with customers, sales reps, account managers and others in the industry to find new sales opportunities.
- Traditional trust issues about customer ownership impact online. In many, if not most, channel relationships there is a certain level of mistrust between channel partners and the manufacturer/main supplier when it comes to managing customer information and end user pricing. Channel partners want to own the customer relationship, fear that the supplier might be playing favorites with other partners and perhaps might steal customers if they happen to sell directly as well.
It’s no surprise given these factors that online marketing collaboration is severely lacking for most industries. Those hurdles make it difficult to get a coordinated program off of the ground, but the good news is that there is a lot of opportunity for improvement. Furthermore, if you can get past some of these hurdles you will have an advantage over your competition in establishing a stronger online presence with your joint marketing efforts.
The Path to Enabling Partner Marketing Success Online
- Establish a Marketing to Marketing relationship. Ask, plead, bribe (legally with a lunch or other favor), whoever manages the partner relationship (often channel management or business development) to introduce you to someone at the partner who either works in the Marketing department or is at least “responsible” for Marketing. Depending on the partner, this could be the President, administrative assistant or anyone in between. Relying on your channel reps to successfully relay marketing ideas and follow up to ensure the project is executed is a fool’s errand. It won’t happen and if it does it can’t sustain itself. Everyone is busy and this will always be the last item on their priority list.
- Convince the partner that you want to help them. This may seem like a ridiculous step because it is obvious, but it’s still necessary. Given the mistrust mentioned previously, it is critical to demonstrate that your aim is to help them and not only yourself.
- Don’t start with the link request. Start with offering something of value to them that helps you, like up to date product content, a guest post for their blog, an interview with one of your executives. Or invite them to write for your blog with a link to their site, etc…
- If you don’t already have a partner section on your site with contact info and links back to your partners, then add one. You will not lose net sales if you do this. If a web visitor wants to buy through a partner instead of directly, there is a reason for that. Helping the Customer purchase the way they want to is not losing a sale, but gaining a customer.
- Explain your metrics to them. We don’t generate leads directly from people who visit us after visiting our partner websites. I believe this to be true for most companies as well. After extensive research, we’ve found that visitors come to our site from partner websites principally when the partner website lacks sufficient information about the products or supplier. They come to find supplemental information to help solidify the purchase decision but not who from to purchase.
- Setup a platform to give your content to your partners. Instead of relying on PDF datasheets that are not search-friendly and are easily out-of-date, enable your CMS to send feeds of content to your suppliers. For example, we let our suppliers generate PDFs directly from the content on our website using www.printerfriendly.com. That way, neither we nor the partner have to worry that they are using out of date content. You can also setup feeds of your content for syndication via RSS, YQL, or even setup mini-site content from your own CMS. If syndicating out content, try to include a rel=”canonical” tag in the content if possible to reduce duplicate content problems.
- Give your value-added content to the partners. We’ve found that video is one of our most successful assets on our websites. Besides being popular with visitors it also is one of the highest correlated behaviors with generating leads. So, we want to help our partners by letting them embed our videos in their sites for their visitors. The better that we can help tell the visitor our story, the more we help the partner to generate a lead which benefits both of us.
- The Basics
- Product, service & company descriptions
- Product images and videos
- Customer testimonials
- Case studies
- Joint press releases
- Embeddable datasheets from supplier’s site
- Sample tweets to promote new content/announcements
- Certified partner badge for the website
- Advanced content
- Industry news articles
- Custom blog posts
- Co-written profiles of partner customers
- Custom eBooks
- Custom infographics
- Unique video content
- The Basics
- Reward partners who support the relationship. I am not in any way suggesting paying partners for links. What I am saying is that you recognize and support the partners who put in the effort to strengthen and promote your relationship. For example, we throw a pizza party for our partners once they have started to use our most recent content or logo (you’d be amazed how many partners still used our old logo on their website 1 year after being acquired and changing our name). We make it fun and find that these small gestures help reinforce trust and a good collaborative relationship with our partners.
- Decide which keywords are fair game. Instead of blindly competing with each other in paid search, driving up the cost of leads for all of you, decided which keywords you want to “own” and which types of searches should go primarily to your partners. For example, if you buy “[your brand]“, that should belong to you and you should set a policy that prohibits (or strongly disincentivizes) partners from bidding on those terms directly. Then, go ahead and bid very low on specific phrases that favor a partner such as “where to buy [your brand]” or “[your brand], los angeles” or “implement [your brand]“. Making a list of these “allowed phrases” and “prohibited phrases” will help your partners focus on less expensive and better opportunities instead of always just directly battling you for the click. (I am not a lawyer and I am not aware of any issues with this type of collaboration, but you may want to check with your legal department before having these conversations)
- Encourage partners to learn some SEO. There are some partners who will want to learn more about online marketing but not know where to start. Help them by providing some of the basic guides that are freely available online such as Moz’s Beginner’s Guide to SEO and HubSpot’s guide to Inbound Marketing. Encourage them to read a few blogs, such as Conductor’s The Science of Search. Basically, empower them to learn and they will pay you back for it over the long run.
I’d suggest you try this with a few of your partners. Start slowly and learn how your partners react to your pitch. Adjust, learn, and then after you get some success and momentum begin to scale. Good luck. It is well worth the effort. After all, they’re your partners, not your enemies.